Ben Simmons was left fuming after fouling out for the second time in three games this season as he continues a bumpy return to the NBA with the Brooklyn Nets.
Simmons took particular issue with the sixth foul called against him, which ended his night. With just under four minutes left in the Nets’ 134-124 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Ja Morant let the ball roll up the court before picking it up and waiting for Simmons to approach him. When Simmons lunged at Morant and made contact, the whistle was blown and Simmons was out of the game.
After watching the play when the game had ended, the Australian said he did not understand why he had been called for a foul, adding he had received no explanation from the referee.
“I just saw the play,” Simmons said. “It wasn’t a foul. [The referee] called it a foul, made a mistake, it is what it is … it’s really frustrating … it’s not a foul, but it was bullshit. It’s frustrating because it’s late game, fourth quarter, it’s a physical, close game. It’s the NBA. It’s not college. It’s not high school. Some people are going to get hit, some people bleed; it’s basketball.”
Morant said he had tempted Simmons into the foul, knowing it would end his night.
“If y’all want to go dig up a play, I think my rookie year I was in Philly – and the same situation happened like that versus Ben in the first half,” Morant said. “I went to look at Coach to get the play, and [Simmons] ran through the ball, got the steal and went to dunk … I knew it at that moment. Once I seen him and I was rolling the ball and I was at half [court]I looked at Coach and I see him try to like, ‘Oh yeah.’ So I knew I had him. He was going to press up, and I was just going to force the ref to make the call.”
The 26-year-old sat out the entirety of last season after falling out with his previous team, the Philadelphia 76ers. He also cited mental health issues for his absence. He was then traded to the Nets in February but did not play until the start of this season due to a back injury.
The former No 1 overall pick has struggled to make a mark on games as he feels his way back into the NBA and recorded seven points, eight assists, three rebounds, a steal and five turnovers in 28 minutes on Monday night.
Nets coach Steve Nash said Simmons’ struggles were understandable after his long absence.
“I think rust [is causing Simmons’ issues],” Nash said. “I just don’t think he’s played a lot of basketball. So he’s just trying to get his game back, his confidence and the familiarity. It’s been 18 months, basically, so that’s a long period of inactivity. For anyone that’s played the game, you know that’s very difficult.”
Morant and Desmond Bane scored 38 points each for the Grizzlies in their victory. The 76 points by the Grizzlies guards was the most by a two-player tandem in franchise history.
Nets star Kevin Durant pointed to Memphis making 16 three-pointers in the game, 12 of them from Bane and Morant. The Nets were 9 of 29 from outside the arc.
“The three-point line killed us,” Durant said, adding: “It was that three-point line that separated us. The fact that they knocked down more threes than us, that’s the name of the game now. Even if you’re not playing well or up to par with your opponent, if you’re making threes, you give yourself a chance.”